Review: Elbow – ‘Lippy Kids’

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Say ‘Elbow’ out loud. Right now. Sounds nice on the tongue, right? There’s a simple, effortless pleasure in the English language, no denying it. Words have a subtle power beyond their literal meaning; any lyricist who knows this soon finds that their songs stick around long after the fade-out of the final chorus. And wouldn’t you know it, Guy Garvey of Elbow happens to be one of those lyricists, championing nice words whenever he opens his mouth near a microphone.

Elbow’s new single is a heartbreaking look at childhood’s end, touching on half remembered instances of pre-adolescent pain, when ‘nobody at home knew me any more’. This is no angsty teenage anthem; it evokes days of innocence and mischief too long gone to count as indulgent nostalgia.

Garvey has caught onto a terrific refrain that sums up the band’s approach to their new material – ‘build a rocket boys!’ It’s a phrase that seems to speak of humble beginnings and spare washing-up bottles; of promises and futures, founded on directionless hopes of days to come. Maybe Elbow thought so too; they’ve used it for the new album title.

A listener feels instantly comfortable with ‘Lippy Kids‘; the arrangement is sparse and aptly deliberate, possessed of a subtle, cyclical enchantment of melodies. This is the work of a strong, mature band, confident of their sound and their standing. Such deceptively minimalistic music demands considerable restraint, though. Any other drummer than Richard Jupp would be sorely tempted to crack the snare and break into a crashing, Sigur Ros-style outro, thus shattering the song’s understated vibe. To their credit, Elbow stay their hand, and the song is richer for it.

The accompanying video captures the band live at Manchester’s Blueprint studios, in a room bathed in glorious winter daylight, the floor a strangely charming mess of tangled wires and chunky effect pedals. Our hairy alt-rock heroes seem relaxed; as fingers breeze over duck-taped keys and brushes sweep gently on the edges of cymbals, their presence is almost tangible. They’ve got their shoes off, they’re sharing warm smiles – you start to feel as if any minute now, there’ll be a brew coming on a little trolley with some decent dipping biscuits.

This has a lot to do with the run-time. At 6 minutes 16 seconds, it has to be said, this is a boldly lengthy choice for a single. Very few songs longer than 4 or 5 minutes survive unedited on regular radio play – the only exception that springs to mind is Dylan’s unstoppable ‘Like a Rolling Stone‘ running for a similar 6 minutes 13 seconds. Whether ‘Lippy Kids‘ can muster the same kind of bluster in the charts remains to be seen, but on the strength of such a serene, strikingly intimate song, chart placings hardly matter; Elbow can stand tall and proud as they stride into the new year.

(Simon Moore)

Check out the track for yourself over in our Videos section.

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